LGBTQ Comic: Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Part One

August 11th, 2017

 Legend of Korra: Turf Wars is a continuation of the Legend of Korra animated series, co-created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, illustrated by Irene Koh, published by Dark Horse Comics. Picking up immediately after the end of the cartoon, the story begins with Korra and Asami in the spirit world. Their vacation comes to an abrupt end when they encounter a hostile spirit, but, it turns out that their presence is needed in the human world. 

In their absence, there have been several major issues that have developed in and around Republic City. Refugees from the wars at the end of the cartoon remain unhoused and the mayor is uninterested in helping them beyond the minimum amount of support. he can provide while he focuses on reelection. Unsurprisingly, morale is low and tensions are high. A real estate developer with ties to organized crime is attempting to exploit the land around the new spirit portal, with plans to turn the spirit realm into a destination vacation. The spirits are not at all pleased with the idea. Every single sentence in this paragraph should make you roll your eyes and sigh with frustration at the timeliness of the narrative, (excepting, perhaps, the bit about the spirits and I’m not sure that isn’t true either.) As I pointed out today on Twitter, have we learned nothing from decades of Scooby-Doo reruns? Real estate developers are always the bad guys. Meanwhile Bolin and Mako have become police officers and work with Bei Fong to maintain the always-tenuous peace in Republic City as organized crime is once again growing in power.

The set-up here is multilayered and complicated, as it always was in the cartoon. Neither Avatar: The Last Airbender nor Legend Of Korra were simple tales of good and evil. Every plot and subplot had nuance. People had complicated reasons for their actions, their motivations were human and obtuse at times and the only truly “evil” characters are ideologues who benefited from the discord sowed by their rhetoric and the people that were controlled by it. (Another sigh seems appropriate at this point.)

And above and beyond all this completely realistic human conflict of resources, energy, ideology, needs and desires, Korra and Asami are working on fitting the unit that is “them,” as a couple, into everything. 

Their first task is coming out to Korra’s family, which goes well, but when her father suggests they be cautious about letting people know about their relationship, Korra predictably takes that very personally. Tension rises between Korra and her parents and Korra and Asami. Resolution cannot come in this first volume, but I expect it will be forthcoming.

It is Kya who provides context for us all, explaining that the Water Tribe tends to keep personal business very private, while the Fire Tribe had been open to same-sex couples until Sozin had outlawed it. The Earth Tribe, we learn, moves slowly and has not yet come around to accepting same-sex relationships. The Air Tribe alone has no issues at all with human sexuality is its many forms. Kya also speaks of a girlfriend, something that is nice to have surfaced. It provides Korra and Asami a person to speak candidly with…something that will no doubt be critical in the narrative. I hope so, at any rate.

The conversation with Kya is also key because it sets the table for what will have to be any number of outings in the course of the story, both private and public  – as it is in real life. Those of us who come out don’t just do it once.  The presumption of heterosexuality is pervasive and so we’re often required to out ourselves to complete strangers just to make a simple point. It’s not hard to see how Asami will be targeted to get to the Avatar, how the Avatar’s relationship will be used against her and how all the characters we know and some we do not yet know, will be reacting to this in some way.

Korra and Aasmi’s relationship is front and center by the end of the volume, when Korra, worried that Asami is hurt, kisses her in front of a crowd of people, including Bolin and Mako. Mako’s reaction is realistically complex for completely understandable reasons.

Characters are written consistently with the way they were presented with the cartoon- – not surprising as one of the co-creators is doing the writing. If anything, because of the limited page count, they are very much the essence of themselves. Pacing is quick. This volume feels like a very brisk 2 episodes of the cartoon, with slower moments implied, rather than lingered upon. Upon a second read, I’m impressed with how much ground they covered in 80 pages. There were a lot of conversations that had to be distilled down and still be handled with layers of meaning intact.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 9
Characters – 9
Service – 0
Yuri – 10

Overall – A very solid 9

My wife asked me if this book was everything I’ve ever wanted. After some thought I said, no, it isn’t, but it is everything that this book needs to be which, in a lot of ways is much better. There’s no age or grade rating on the book cover, but it displays the Nickelodeon logo prominently and is listed as Age Range 9-12, Grade Level 4-7 on Amazon. Which makes Turf Wars the tween LGBTQ book we all needed when we were kids. A nice older gay couple and a trans character or 3, maybe a non-binary character and it’ll start approaching perfect. ^_^ 

The creative team is very aware of their role in offering up solid queer representation for young people, as they say in this Entertainment Weekly interview with Koh and DiMartino. Koh describes herself as a “bisexual Asian martial artist” and she’s bringing both ethnic and sexual/gender diversity to the characters, as she told Comic Book Resources in May. Based on my first readthroughs, I trust them to do a good job. 

I think this comic will be good for comics in general, as it is #1 in all its Amazon categories at the moment. Like Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, (still #1 in gay manga!) sales are going to walk the walk and talk the talk that diversity is not something to be scared of in the comics world, no matter how loud the naysayers are. (And really, they aren’t loud, they are just used to having the mic.)

My very very sincere thanks to Okazu Superhero Eric P for sponsoring today’s review! This was awesome for me to come home to after Yurithon, and has already become part of my “don’t miss” Yuri presentation for 2017!

I’ve already given this book a second read and probably will pick it up for a third when Book 2 is released in the beginning of 2018!

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4 Responses

  1. Jen Yoko says:

    I am so glad you got this book and reviewed it. I was BEYOND excited to get this book in general. For me Korra is the closest thing I have as a character that represents myself. She may not be my favorite character in the world but she means a lot to me on many levels.

    As a person of color who is also queer this is significantly huge. Something that no one will truly understand unless they have been starving for food years. Than finally after years of starvation become nourished by something balanced and healthy. It gives you strength and hope. (sounds extreme but that’s how I take it)

    It’s refreshing to see that this comic is going over well with a lot of people. I think this book is something that young children in general should read. queer or not. It’s something that is relatable in a sense that each culture portrays sexuality differ. Also might teach or assist someone in how to deal with coming out. Who knows?

    This book is exactly what I wanted and left a warm feeling in my heart. I await the next book come next year.

    • I’m so glad to hear your opinion on this! It seems to me that this series will be seen by researchers in years to come as a major influence. Having non-white lead characters will be one of those things we look back at and go, “Huh, that was an awesome series that changed everything.”

      As I think about it, I don’t think there are any Caucasian characters in the whole series. And you know what? Great. That works for me.

  2. Sam S. says:

    I’m super glad to see you reviewed this! I was hoping you would and you did not disappoint! As a long time fan of AtlA and LoK, this comic was great! And definitely the kind of comic I wish I had had when I was younger, it would’ve been much more constructive for me to read such a sensitive and mature portrayal instead of some of the rather less sensitive and healthy portrayals of gay relationships from only the internet. I too hope it sells well enough to convince other comics to take the plunge in becoming more diverse/encourages more diverse comics period.

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